After enduring the most unusual recruiting cycle in memory, a trio of Beaufort Academy boys basketball stars committed last week to play at the next level.
Malachi Rodriguez and Braxton Tolbert will remain teammates at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College next season, while Ben VanHise committed to play at NCAA Division III Methodist University.
HS BASKETBALL COVERAGE SPONSORED BY
Rodriguez and Tolbert will be taking their talents to Clifton Forge, Virginia, to play in the junior college ranks for the RoadRunners. Rodriguez received a full scholarship first, and when Tolbert received his offer recently, the duo decided to stick together at a school where they see similarities to BA.
“What stuck out about Dab-Lan was first the scenery,” Tolbert said. “It is in Virginia which is a beautiful place and it’s isolated … I’ve loved the small setting [at BA] and Dab-Lan has a lot in common. What also stuck out was how welcoming they were. I can feel it. This place is going to be home.”
Rodriguez did not see himself at this point as a freshman, but the 6-foot-7 center has worked hard on his game and developed into a dominant big man for the Eagles.
“Playing at the college level was something that I didn’t think was possible until I met Coach [Nick] Field 5 years ago,” Rodriguez said.
Just a few short years ago, Rodriguez was at Beaufort Middle School and not playing organized basketball. He played for Field in the AAU circuit as an eighth grader and made Field’s JV team at Beaufort High the next year, and Field saw something in the young player.
“The first thing you notice is his overall length,” said Field, now the AD at BA. “He towered over his classmates.”
And he had the work ethic to match.
“He always did his best and tried to do everything we asked of him,” Field said. “That’s really all you can ask for as a coach.”
BA coach Bobby Smith was at Beaufort High as an assistant coach from 2016-18 and saw something in the big man that has continued to develop during his time at BA.
“When I began coaching Malachi, I saw a young player who worked hard and listened to coaching,” Smith recalls. “Mal was not going to see immediate success; however, he had a huge potential. He worked extremely hard, and now he is beginning to have success at the next level. I am happy I had an opportunity to develop him as a player.”
VanHise also made the move from Beaufort High ahead of his senior season, and he quickly emerged as a leader for his new team. Smith was pleasantly surprised when VanHise burst onto the scene at BA over the summer.
“We did not know we were getting such a well-rounded guy. Ben has good offensive skills, which we have been able to utilize inside and outside the perimeter,” Smith said. “He is able to motivate and direct our team both on and off the court. I believe Ben will be a great asset to his team at Methodist University, and he has been a pleasure to coach.”
VanHise had 11 other offers, but he said what drove his final decision was the family atmosphere and the feeling of being at home.
“My visit to Methodist introduced me to a beautiful campus of about 2,500 students,” said VanHise, who moved to Beaufort from Michigan in the fall of 2019. “The facilities were beautiful, and I loved all the people I met there from the coaches to the players. I felt comfortable and felt like Methodist was the place to be.”
VanHise attributes many of the opportunities he had to play at the next level to his work with Smith and Field, who also helped all three players navigate the recruiting process.
“Over the summer my recruitment took off just as Coach Field and Coach Smith said it would, as long as I put in the work, and that is what we did,” VanHise said. “We came in and got better every day and it is showing now in the season and will show next year at the collegiate level.”
The BA senior class combined to score 21 college offers, which is the most to come from a class at the school. The team has a closer bond than past teams, according to Tolbert, who has been at BA for six years.
“This year has by far been my best year playing with (BA]. The family that I call my brothers I will keep for the rest of my life,” Tolbert said. “Playing alongside the best senior class will always be a great memory of mine.”
Beaufort Academy (5-5, 0-0) has been off since a 54-33 win over Lowcountry Leadership on December 21, due to Christmas break and a positive COVID-19 test within the school. Field says there are no cases on either the boys or girls teams but is operating out of an “abundance of caution.”
The Eagles open a brutal stretch of 12 region games in just 18 days starting Friday, Jan. 29, at Hilton Head Prep.
Written by Eric Ellison / Photos by Justin Jarrett